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The Algonquin Tribe

Cover History

The Algonquin are an aboriginal people who speak an Anishinaabe language known as Algonquin. Linguistically and culturally, the Algonquin tribe is closely related to the Ojibwe and Odawa, with whom they form the larger Anishinaabe grouping. The home communities of the Algonquin are situated in western Quebec and adjacent Ontario. According to the earliest oral history, the Algonquin tribe migrated from the Atlantic coast and together with other Anicinapek people, arrived at the “First Stopping Place” near Montreal (NWE, 2017, N. p). While the other Anicinape people decided to continue with their journey, the Algonquins settled at a place along the Ottawa River known as the Kitcisipi. This would prove to be not only a wise but also strategic decision as the Kitcisipi was a prominent highway for cultural exchange, commerce and transportation. In the 1600s after the Algonquin had occupied the islands and shores along the Ottawa River and established themselves as a hunter-gatherer society, they encountered the first Europeans.

The encounter with the Europeans thrust the Algonquin tribe into fur trade. Ottawa River was such as strategic location for trade, culture exchange and transportation that the Algonquin people fought each other to gain control of the location. However, they would soon unite after the Algonquins became unfortunate victims of European politics. Initially, the Algonquin tribe formed an alliance with the French based on their firearms for furs barter trade. However, the French proved to be a weak ally as the Algonquin tribe was defeated by an alliance between their archenemies known as the Iroquois and the Dutch (Clement, 1996, N. p). The rift between the French and some of the Algonquin tribe members was further widened by the decision of French Jesuits to actively convert Algonquins to Roman Catholicism, resulting in a bitter separation between converts and traditionalists. Nonetheless, the French remained a close ally of the Algonquin warriors with the two fighting hand in hand until the British conquest of Quebec in 1760 (NWE, 2017, N. p).


For thousands of years, the Algonquin tribe hunted, gathered, lived and travelled in the Ottawa Valley. Their homes or dwellings known as wigwams resembled those of their Anishinaabeg relatives. Despite the fact that a large portion of the historical Algonquin society was hunting, gathering and fishing-based, some of the members of the Algonquin tribe practiced agriculture. They cultivated beans, corns and squash in what would be famously known as the “Three Sisters” of indigenous horticulture (NWE, 2017, N. p). Due to their dominant hunting culture, efficient mobility was more than essential since the material had to be not only light but also easy to transport. Thus, the Algonquins made canoes from birch bark and later sowed with spruce roots before being applied with heated-up grease and spruce resin to render them waterproof.

The relations between members of the Algonquin tribe were contingent largely on local conditions. This is to mean that marriages occurred between members of the Algonquin tribe and other groups. Despite the different languages and designations, kinship ties were advocated for during the marriages. Since the majority of the Algonquin tribe members were hunters, they decided to differentiate patrilineal clans using animal totems such as the wolf, loon, crane and bear clans among others. Leadership of the clans and communities was entrusted to the respected heads of clans and elders based on the egalitarian nature of the Algonquin tribe. However, intermarriages between clans were forbidden even in situations whereby the parties came from separate communities. The Algonquins were not devoid of chaos as they had turbulent relations with the Iroquois with both camps registering multiple casualties in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Notwithstanding, some members of the Algonquin tribe, especially the converts, lived peacefully with Catholic Iroquois at a mission reservation close to Montreal referred to as Oka (Black, 2007, N. p).


The Algonquins, like their Eastern Woodland neighbors had a rich musical culture. There are numerous similarities between the musical features of the two groups and this is attributed to their immense interaction. The Algonquin tribe produced music that mostly consisted of four to six tones which were used by the tribe members to create rising and falling melodies. Given that music played an important role in their lives as it was used even in ceremonies and rituals, Native Americans as a whole contemplated the rhythms of rattles and drums as representative of the great forces of life. This notion of music was also embodied by the Algonquin tribe. Melody and harmony is held in high esteem in today’s music. However, for the Algonquins, the simultaneous sounding of two or more pitches otherwise known as harmony was rare in their music. They placed great emphasis on the rhythm of the drums and rattles.

While music for other groups and the Europeans was mostly for entertainment purposes, the Algonquin tribe treated music as a key ingredient to attaining greater spiritual connection. For instance, when conducting rituals and prayers, the members of the Algonquin tribe used their drums and rattles to guide the course of the rituals and prayers. Little emphasis was placed on vocals in terms of singing or attaining harmony. Instead, the people used the rhythms from their drums and rattles to guide their singing and dancing or movements. As such, the instruments utilized by the Algonquins for music were simple. The Algonquin tribe also had the tendency of participating in music outings as a clan or community. This fostered the feeling of togetherness among the tribe members and enhanced their relations.

Contemporary Algonquin